The fantasy baseball season has just concluded, but it’s never too late (or should I say too early) to start thinking about next season. Most fantasy advocates have moved onto football, but their loss is your gain. Over the next few months I will be covering the top players at each position in order to help you out for next year’s draft. We begin this week’s top 24 series with catchers.
Unlike most years, the catcher position for the 2014 season will be fairly deep. If you are in a 10 or 12 team league, there is no need to jump early or panic if you wait too long, there is plenty of talent to go around. Even those in 14 team leagues are safe as there are several serviceable choices outside the top 12, as well as a few young players that could step up and surprise.
Before we get to the rankings, let’s talk a look at this year’s free agent class. Headlining this group is Brian McCann (signed with Yankees), followed by AJ Pierzynski (signed with Red Sox), John Buck, Kurt Suzuki, Carlos Ruiz (resigned with Philly), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (signed with Marlins) and a cast of others. Where they end up will ultimately affect their overall value so pay attention this off-season. As for the cast of others, some will find work as a backup someplace while others may find a starting gig. Ultimately though while some of them may deserve a job in real life, there is no place for them on our fake teams so they’re not worth mentioning.
There are a few names you won’t see here. Mike Napoli has officially moved to first base so he will not be mentioned here. He is only 32 and a pending free agent, so depending on where he ends up he could find his way into a few games behind the plate which would greatly increase his value. Also Victor Martinez only played 3 games at catcher so he will not be ranked here, but that could change as next season draws closer and we have a clearer understanding on what his role will be.
Feel free to disagree in the comments section below.
1. Buster Posey (Giants): What can I say about one of the best catcher in the game today. Posey is a 4 category stud with good on base skills batting in the heart of the order. Another positive about Posey is that he has no discernible splits either for home/away or lefty/righty. Posey will also garner more at bats as he mans first base on occasion to help with the everyday wear & tear of catching duties (a trend several teams are following with their stud catchers).
2. Wilin Rosario (Rockies): You can make an argument for some of the players listed below, but I believe Rosario has earned his spot. The soon to be 25-year-old still strikes out a little more than we’d like and has yet to master the art of walks, but he makes up for this with his power. Rosario gave us another 20+ home run season with an improved batting average, which was better against right-handed pitchers and on the road (two things he struggled with last season). Colorado also auditioned him at first base for a few games so there’s the chance he could gain dual eligibility next season. The next few players could come with less of a risk, but they don’t have his upside.
3. Joe Mauer (Twins): Let’s face it, Mauer isn’t going to hit 20+home runs anytime soon. Hell, we’d be happy if he hit 15. While his 2009 power numbers may be an aberration, his batting average isn’t and that’s what you’re drafting. Baring an injury, Mauer will give you a .300+ average, score about 80 runs and knock in about the same. Granted the runs & RBIs are contingent to the team around him, but if he comes up with numbers somewhere between his 2012 & 2013 season, you’ll be a happy camper.
Edit: 11/15 With Mauer’s move to first, the increased at bats and the lowered injury risk could make Mauer the top rated catcher this year. In keeper & Dynasty leagues you’ll take a hit, but in redraft leagues I’d be gunning for Mauer.
4. Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers): I went back and forth with this pick, but in the end I went with Lucroy. He was on a lot of sleeper lists coming into this season and while his slow start caused some owners to cut bait (myself included), those who stuck with him were rewarded. He took a step backwards with his batting average but I’ll take .284 from a catcher. And despite the team falling apart around him, he still managed to rack up over 80 RBIs. Expect a average in the .290 range with better run production next year as his days of hitting below the 5th spot are over.
5. Yadier Molina (Cardinals): He’s always hit for a good average, but somewhere in the second half of 2011 he discovered a little bit of a power stroke. This garnered him a spot in the 5 hole and an increase in runs & RBIs. Now while I don’t see him putting up 22 home runs again, Molina is capable of reaching double digits and numbers somewhere between what he’s done the past 3 years. In comparison, he’s Joe Mauer Lite.
6. Brian McCann (Yankees): McCann’s spot is tentative as he is a free agent so he could move up or down a spot. Atlanta has Evan Gattis to step into his role and several options in the minors so it’s unlikely The Braves offer him a contract. Putting where he plays aside, McCann is good for 20+ home runs with a batting average in the .270 range. He’s no longer an elite catching option, but he’ll only be 30 years old next season so I don’t see him regressing below what he’s done the past 2 years.
Edit 12/02 – McCann moves up a few spots with his recent signing with the Yankees. Count on 25 homers and don’t be surprised if he gets to 30.
7. Carlos Santana (Indians): Santana hit for a much higher average in the minors, but those numbers have yet to translate into the majors. It has gone up at a steady pace the past 2 years, but for someone who will turn 28 next year I expect more. He does have good power numbers for a catcher and his walks and strikeouts are almost identical so there is hope his average will improve. If it does he could find himself in the top 5 by the end of the season. They say it takes catchers longer for their minor league numbers to catch up, let’s hope that’s the case here.
8. Miguel Montero (Diamondbacks): Prior to this year, Montero was mister dependable. You could bank on a .280 average, about 60 runs, 16 homers and 80 ribbies. In 2013 he hit a wall and while he hit better over the last few months, it was too little too late. Considering the consistency he’s shown in the past, I’m willing to give him a mulligan for last season. If you don’t get one of the guys above, don’t worry as Montero should be available later and at a discount.
9. Jason Castro (Astros): Last year it was the Jose Altuve show, but 2013 belonged to Castro. He did what Santana (above) and Wieters (below) couldn’t and that’s take a step forward. He only spent 2 years in the minors and was fast tracked to Houston so he’s had a lot of on the job training. Where he goes from here will depend on his surrounding cast. He should put up a similar batting average and power numbers, but the run and RBI department will come down to who’s on the field with him. Houston has the potential to be good, but will that potential be in the majors or AAA. He belongs in the top 12, but probably won’t go much higher than he is right now.
10. Matt Wieters (Orioles): Weiters took a big step back when many were predicting a step forward. We know he can hit for power, but the batting average continues to go in the wrong direction. Since he turns 28 next season, take everything I said about Santana above and apply it to Wieters. If he’s ever going to take a step forward, now is the time.
11. Salvador Perez (Royals): Overall I say it was a success for the 23-year-old. He has double-digit pop in his bat, but his main asset is his ability to hit for a high average. For a comparison, think of him as a young Yadier Molina. He won’t win you a championship but he won’t sink your stats at the catcher position. He’s a dependable option once the top guys are gone. You could do better, but you could do a lot worse.
12. Wilson Ramos (Nationals): I feel like I’ve been waiting for this guy to break out since, forever. If he were to have a full year of at bats, I see him putting up numbers similar to what Miguel Montero put up prior to his 2013 season. In 2011 he had close to full-time catcher numbers, but he’s always been squeezed out of the picture by someone else or dealing with some kind of injury. Given how under the radar he has been and the talent listed above him, he’s bound to be overlooked. If you’re the one who waits on catchers because you don’t want to waste a high pick on one, here is where I’d put my money. You’ll be able to draft him later and he could easily put up numbers making him a top 10. Definite Sleeper material.
13. Evan Gattis (Braves): Granted this ranking is contingent on the Braves not resigning McCann or going out and signing another catcher. Gattis burst onto the scene and put on a hitting display in McCann’s absence and soon had fantasy owners calling for McCann to be traded. The honeymoon was over when McCann returned and Gattis spent the next 3 months in a part-time role lucky enough to hit his weight. He recovered in September as a spot opened up for him in the outfield. If he can show the ability to hit for average he could move up a few spots, but if he can’t he’s going to be slightly more valuable than Russell Martin.
12/18: With the Braves trading for Ryan Doumit, Gattis’s value takes a hit. His value now lies in NL only and 2 catcher leagues until you hear otherwise.
14. Travis d’Arnaud (Mets): A hot start by Buck and an unfortunate injury took away any chance of making an early arrival. Buck is now gone and the starting job is there for d’Arnaud to lose. He showed good power in the minors, but that was the PCL where everyone shows good power. He’s ranked here for his potential but shouldn’t be drafted as your primary catcher. I expect the Mets to sign one of those “cast of others” I talked about in the beginning, but d’Arnaud should be given every chance to succeed.
15. Russell Martin (Pirates): Somewhere along the line, Martin forgot how to hit. He used to be an elite catcher, but now he’s the guy you grab off waivers when you get an injury or the guy you drafted flops. He’s still useful and will give you 50 or so in the runs and RBI department, and there is still enough power to knock out 15-20 homers. Unfortunately you’ll have to live with the .230 batting average. I would say there’s a chance the average comes up, but it hasn’t cracked .250 in five years so what you see is what you get.
16. A.J. Pierzynski (Red Sox): A.J. is like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. For the past two years he has defied age, logic and expectations. But one has to wonder how much the soon to be 37-year-old free agent has to offer. I’ve written him off and overlooked him the past two years thinking there is no way he can keep this up, and next year is going to be no different. I’d look to him if I had an injury or if I was in a 14 plus team or 2 catcher league, but otherwise…………….
17. J.P Arencibia (Rangers): How much longer will fantasy players and the Toronto management give the soon to be 28-year-old. He has the power & nobody can deny that, but he can’t seem to hit his way out of a paper bag. His strikeouts have increased, his OBP is in the toilet and he can’t draw a walk. So why rank him, for the same reason people still rank Adam Dunn, he’s here for power. If power is what you seek you’ve come to the right place, just don’t expect much else.
Edit 12/06 – Arencibia signed a 1 year deal with Texas, and while he should be playing backup to Soto here neither one has lit up the scoreboard with their batting average.
18. Welington Castillo (Cubs): Castillo didn’t impress fantasy owners, but he didn’t embarrass himself either. He hit for an acceptable average and showed some pop, but that’s about it. He’s an injury fill in or the other guy in a two catcher league. His only plus is he has job security with Navarro a pending free agent.
19. Yasmani Grandal (Padres): There was a lot of hype surrounding the rookie. Unfortunately a 50 game ban for PEDs killed some of that. So what is the fantasy world supposed to think of him now? What did he take? How long was he on whatever he took? And how much of those minor league number were enhanced by what he took? If you have an extra bench spot it might be worth grabbing him as a backup just in case, but with Nick Hudley still in San Diego playing time could be an issue.
20. Carlos Ruiz (Phillies): People were all a clamber after his injury shortened breakout year in 2012, but prior to that he was nothing more than a mediocre backstop who could on occasion hit for a good average. The soon to be 34-year-old is a free agent so his success (or lack thereof) depends upon where he lands. I’d personally go with Pierzynski before I looked his way.
21. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins): At one time Salty was a top catching prospect, but he has yet to live up to the hype. Like Russell Martin he has some pop in his bat and is capable of hitting 20 homers, but the low batting average and high strikeouts will drag him down. He’ll turn 29 next year so expecting him to improve at this point is probably a pipe dream. He’s good enough in real life to land a job next year (or maybe resign with Boston), but in the fantasy world leave him for your opponent.
22. Yan Gomes (Indians): No he’s not the full-time catcher, but he does qualify for the catcher position and his bat is good enough to be in the lineup. If he ends up with a position to play (or at least play part time along with his catching duties), he could be a sneaky pick in deeper or two catcher leagues. He can hit for a decent average and has some pop to his bat. A full years at bats could equal maybe 15-18 homers and a .280 average.
23. Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox): We’ve been waiting several years for this one but I think next year could be the year. He’s had several chances with the big club but hasn’t been able to display the power and average he showed us in college or in the minors. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a free agent so the starting job in Boston is up in the air. I fully expect Boston to sign a catcher to a one year deal (A.J. Pierzynski?), but I also expect Lavarnway to be part of a platoon as there’s not much left for the 26-year-old to prove in the minors. It’s time to see if all the waiting was worth it. Don’t expect much but don’t be surprised if he comes out of nowhere either.
24. Mike Zunino (Mariners): Seattle finally gave up on Jesus Montero and gave Zunino a shot. Unfortunately things didn’t go to well for Zunino. The 22-year-old put up impressive numbers in college and in his brief minor league career, but seemed overmatched against major league pitching. He projects as a power hitter with double-digit power and showed he can hit for a high average. Seattle will give him every chance to succeed in the majors, but there is a chance he will start the year in the minors. Regardless he’s someone to monitor during spring training as healthy spring numbers and a starting job could move him up the draft board, but temper your expectations as he is just a kid and still learning the ropes.
Be sure to check out the entire Top 24 for 2014 Series.